Grip strength is as simple as it sounds. How hard you can grip something in your hand. What’s less obvious is why we need grip strength and how we can improve it.
It’s hard to imagine that on top of all the work we do in the gym to strengthen all the major muscle groups, we also need to work on the muscles in our hands and fingers. Sounds silly really.
But, there is reason to think about grip strength. There’s even a product out there that helps you improve it. A grip strengthener, surprisingly.
If you’re interested to know what grip strength is about and whether you need to bother working on it, here’s what you need to know.
What is grip strength?
Grip strength is pretty important to you in your everyday life. Inside the gym and out of it, grip strength is what allows you to hold onto things in your hands. It involves muscles in the hands, wrists, and forearms.
In the gym, it’s important because of the way you train if you’re in to lifting weights. When grasping and lifting barbells and dumbbells, it’s grip strength that allows you to do that.
There are broadly three types of grip strength. Crush grip, pinch grip, and support grip. Crush grip is the grip between your fingers and your palm. Pinch grip is the finger to thumb grip. And support grip is the ability to hold onto things for prolonged periods and requires your forearms a little more. You might focus on a specific type of grip strength if you’re involved in a sport that requires it. For example, wrestling, martial arts, and climbing all call upon pinch strength a little more.
Why do you need grip strength?
Pretty much everything you do with your hands requires grip strength. Picking things up. Carrying them. Twisting things open. All of these actions engage the muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms.
In the gym, you need adequate grip strength to be able to lift heavy. When strength and endurance training, you will be lifting heavy weights for few reps or lighter weights for lots of reps. After a while, you will start to fatigue. It’s common that the muscles that reach the point of failure first are the ones that are responsible for your grip strength. What that means is that you reach a point where you’re unable to lift a barbell or set of dumbbells any longer, not because the exercise you were doing has become too difficult, but because gripping onto the weight has. Your glutes could have kept going, but your grip strength gave up.
This is why grip strength is important. It lets you keep increasing the amount of weight and number of reps you can do, without tired hands getting in the way of your progress.
How can you test your grip strength?
If you need to work on your grip strength, you might know already. Having your hands cramp up when trying to get through your workout routine is a sign. This doesn’t mean you have weak grip strength, it just means it’s not matching the amount you’re trying to lift. To remove this as a barrier to your fitness progression, you might want to work on it.
There’s also a more technical way to test your grip. A hand dynamometer is a clever bit of kit that gives you a reading when you squeeze it. This reading can be used to interpret your grip strength. Men should aim for a reading of 105 or above, whilst women should aim for 57 or above.
How can you improve your grip strength?
If you’ve decided that you want to work on your grip, there are a number of different ways you can do this.
The most well known would be to invest in a grip strengthener. Or a hand gripper. Whatever you like to call it, it’s a small, portable bit of kit that lets you improve your hand grip by squeezing it together. On the high tech ones, you can increase the resistance levels to help track your own progression.
The benefits of using a hand grip strengthener is that they allow you to work your individual fingers too. The ones with adjustable resistance mean you can work finger by finger and improve overall dexterity and strength as a result.
But, purchasing a bit of kit isn’t the only way to improve the strength of your grip. There are lots of different exercises you can do to work the muscles involved. Grip training, if you want a term for it.
Grip training doesn’t need a dedicated session in itself. Just adding a couple of hand exercisers into your warm up or cool down is a great way to keep on top of it so that it never becomes a problem.
Static Barbell Hold
As simple as it sounds, the static barbell hold is an isometric exercise where you stand still and hold onto the barbell. The position is the same as the one you’d hold at the top of a deadlift. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, your arms straight down, and your core engaged. Holding the bar for elongated periods of time will help you work on grip endurance.
This is a well known compound exercise for improving full body strength and posture. It’s also helpful for grip strength. It’s walking, whilst holding a heavy set of dumbbells or kettlebells by your sides in each hand. The emphasis here is on the heavy.
Start with a double overhand grip on the barbell. This means your hands are going over the bar, rather than under it. It can also be called a pronated grip. With a firm stance, start with your arms straight and then curl the barbell towards your chest. Make sure to use your forearms to perform the movement.
Dead Hang Hold
This involves hanging from a pull up bar by gripping the bar with each hand just wider than shoulder width apart. Again, adopt a pronated grip. Your feet shouldn’t be touching the floor, so make sure to keep your feet up if you’re a bit taller than the bar. Keep some tension in your shoulders to help develop strength here too.
The aim for this hand exerciser is to improve your pinch grip in particular. That’s the grip between your thumb and fingers. Weight plates are the perfect width to do this with. Simply hold a plate on its side between your thumb and fingers for as long as you can. Increase the number of plates and the weight as you progress.
Don’t let anything get in the way of your strength training progression. By keeping on top of your grip strength, you can make sure this doesn’t become a barrier. Plus, you’ll always be called on to open the jam jar.
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